Having taken note of your posts from our “Faith, Doubt, and God” course, I thought I might jot you two a joint reply, for your comments are related as two sides of one coin.
B. has teasingly, but at the same seriously, accused me of mounting an argumentum ad hominem. But in fact my remark in class was by no means intended to replace other, less rhetorical observations, which is precisely what ad hominems attempt to do. I certainly do believe (this was the cause of his allegation) that anyone who is well informed regarding the teachings and methods of the world’s orthodox religions and who is sufficiently supple—”sophisticated” may not have been the best term—can’t help but be a perennialist. But stating the belief and defending it are, I freely admit, not the same.
As for whether B. himself is therefore “ill-informed” or “unsupple”, the latter diagnosis seems to me the more apt in his case. Lest he suppose, however, that I’m accusing him of being unable to sit in full lotus (!), I should perhaps clarify that what I have in mind is a metaphysical, not physical, plasticity. Explaining this further would require much more than a brief comment in a forum like this, so allow me to cut to the chase by saying—and please understand: this too is just an observation and not (yet) an argument—that Meister Eckhart is almost certainly the most “supple” Christian I’ve ever read.
Which leads me to respond to T.’s post. Not surprisingly, she has expressed her concern that Eckhart’s teaching is “exaggerated”. I couldn’t disagree more. As I see it, what he said in our course reader about the difference between “God” and God (see Chapter 70 of my Not of This World) couldn’t be clearer or truer or more just. His teaching may indeed be a “shock” to some people, but that’s not his “agenda”. He’s simply stating What Is in as direct a way as is humanly possible. But he realizes—and this, of course, is what pulls many of his Christian readers up short—that in order to say What Is one must know What Is, and that in order to know What Is one must be What Knows.
I’m fully aware that this last formulation, of Schuonian origin, may itself produce its own sort of shock. B. is right in thinking that it would almost certainly be censured by authorities such as the Elder Sophrony or Bishop K.—though I can tell you in all honesty that the latter is himself rather more “supple” in private than he is in his ex officio discourse. Be that as it may, even taking the public words of His Grace at face value, all they show is that there is an important difference between being a mystic and being an esotericist, just as there is a difference between being an esoteric Christian and being a Christian esotericist.
I myself tend to be an esotericist first and foremost. And this means that for me Christianity, like every religion, is a salvific upaya and not a one-for-one mapping of celestial facts. I don’t think I’m letting any cats out of the bag when I tell you this: from a certain point of view, my Advice to the Serious Seeker, which I believe you’ve both read, is about nothing else. In any case, esotericism thus understood is the standard by which I measure what counts as “suppleness” or “sophistication” (from sophia = “wisdom”). This being so, I trust it is clear that my above assessment of B. is in no way a “put-down”. Clearly the saints themselves are on a spectrum of varying degrees of esotericism, hence of “metaphysical plasticity”; someone like Maximos is significantly “suppler” in this respect than a Cyprian, which is no doubt why B. finds some of what the Confessor said about the modalities of Incarnation “too abstract” and insufficiently rooted in the particulars of the flesh and blood Jesus.
A final point. Though I am by my very nature an esotericist or metaphysician, I’ve never supposed that everybody else should be one, too. Indeed I’ve always been diffident about pressing “my” position too firmly or insistently lest I end up confusing or distracting an interlocutor whose spirituality is more bhaktic in character. Better by far to keep one’s eyes on the finger and not look at the moon than to ignore both finger and moon while gazing off into empty space. Behind my alleged ad hominem there are indeed arguments, but advancing those arguments, to say nothing of winning one of them, is of very little importance. It’s loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength that counts. And as far as I can tell, you two do, for which of course: Deo gratias.